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Brazil’s Digital Divide - narrowing but still vast

Brazil has long been a high performer in the world of emerging telecoms markets - in overall economic terms, she is a member of the CIRB group. And yet there are still challenges she needs to meet to become a mature telecoms power. Michael Schwartz analyses.

Brazil’s Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) conducted a survey of 155,000 households in Brazil two years ago, publishing its findings in December 2009. Overall, in the opinion of the survey’s compilers and analysts, Brazil has made tremendous strides in building up consumer telecoms but she still has a major digital divide to cross.

A blunt statistic to back up IBGE’s conclusions comes is that 65% of Brazilians over the age of 10 have no access to the Internet. There are the Internet kiosks in Brazil that do have the role they have worldwide in bringing the potential of the Web to millions of people who would otherwise be financially barred but Brazil still has to make the breakthrough needed for popular access.

To confuse matters, there is a Digital Divide within Brazil’s many regions. South-Eastern Brazil witnesses an Internet access rate of 40% - by contrast, only 25% of North-Eastern Brazil’s population has access. In the case of the remotest areas - the Western Amazon comes to mind - the percentage can only be minimal. There are the questions of whether some parts of Brazil will ever get access because they are so remote and whether that local population actually wants access.

But surely Brazilian surfing can not just be Brasilia, Sao Paolo and Rio? What is amazing is IBGE’s finding that only 60% of students in Brazil have access to the Net. Four neighbours (Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay) have higher rates.

The reasons for this lack of take-up include lack of interest, no knowledge of how to use the Internet and no access to a computer: exactly the sort of people for whom the initiative we at Developing Telecoms have carried on this site for the last four years: low-cost computers and mobiles are two glaring examples of where Brazil could benefit.

As usual it is younger people who use the Internet. As they become more educated and bring up children to be as acquisitive of knowledge as their parents, then the levels of access, education and prosperity will also grow. While the survey in question was conducted in 2008, comparisons can be made with the findings of another survey conducted in 2005. At that time only around 20% of Brazilians had Internet access compared to the latest figure. In parallel, broadband connections have doubled over the same period..

Brazil’s achievements have been greater than many emerging markets. She has embraced technologies more frequently associated with mature markets. Her telecoms sector should study and implement the IBGE’s conclusions.

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